Aging Parents: Is a Male Caregiver or Companion Better for Older Men?

“Honey” or “Sweetie:” No.   “Boss” or “Chief:” Yes!

Finding “the right” caregiver/ aide/companion when a parent comes home from the hospital–or at any time– is a challenge most adult children face. But other things being equal, our first thought for an aging father is usually not about the aide’s gender.

This prompted my very first post, “Release from the Hospital.” I explain some men prefer men for obvious reasons or because they don’t appreciate the nurturing nature (which often includes being called “Honey” or “Sweetie”). They want “Boss,” or “Chief.”

Recently I mentioned this to a friend as we discussed helping aging fathers. My friend quipped something  like “they’d prefer a male to  an attractive female?”

OK. All that sounds sexist. But to my knowledge I haven’t been proven wrong. Women are supposed to be more nurturing; I’m guessing for the most part they are. When caring for older men they may get A+ in the nurturing category, yet score well below that in the empowering category. And isn’t feeling empowered an important ingredient in the getting-well-and-aging-well mix?

While I’m basically clueless about knowing whatever it is that men do to generate “can-do” feelings and masculine pride when they are together, I want to share a recent experience with a man in his 90’s, but precede this with my father’s experience when he was in his 90’s.

When my father came home from the hospital and needed temporary help, he was adamant about having a man. They talked cars, sports, male-stuff–it was empowering, interesting; and he loved getting a shave–even though it was something he could very well do for himself (male pampering?).

And even when he was feeling weak the aide made certain he was dressed well. Look good, feel better. Dignity reinforced. You get the idea.

So I “stuck my neck out” recently when a much older couple, who have a part-time, competent cleaning woman, needed more help. They had recently downsized in the town where they lived and the formerly very gregarious, involved 90+-year-old husband seemed to lose interest. Depression was ruled out by his doctor, but he seemed depressed. The fact that he was having some physical problems could have contributed to this sort of “shutting down.”

The competent cleaning woman was like a family member and was helping the husband as needed. Yet when I heard the story, I  strongly suggested a part-time male companion.  A male has come to help out and I’m told it has made a real difference.

Among other things, the male helper (because of his physical strength?) gave the husband confidence to take regular walks with him; he also gave the old man a shave. And they went together to a driving range to hit golf balls.

“Honey” and “Sweetie” are decidedly different than “Boss” and “Chief.” This awareness may prove helpful at some point– for older fathers and grandfathers–as we try to help parents age well.

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